By Kieran Heffernan
Ismail Ayyoub was, in his own words, pissed.
He was supposed to attend the Canadian Championships for wrestling this April, which would have given him the chance at qualifying for Canada’s national team. Then, like so many other athletes, his season was cut short by COVID-19.
“Competitions like that, you’re usually cutting weight and you’re on a serious diet plan to make sure you compete at your best,” he explained. Taking all those steps ended up being for nothing.
But, the soon-to-be-graduate of Longfields-Davidson Heights is an optimistic guy.
“There are things that I can control in this life and there are things that I can’t,” he said. “What can I control during this time? I can control my training, I can control my diet, I can control my time.”
According to Chris Schrauwen, Ayyoub’s coach at National Capital Wrestling Club, this strong work ethic along with an offensive, upper-body focussed wrestling style are what have made Ayyoub so successful. Schrauwen said he estimates that the average high school wrestler practises around three times a week, but for Ayyoub it’s more like five or six.
His hard work has paid off in the form of numerous big wins since he started wrestling in March of 2017, his most recent being gold at both the juvenile and junior provincial championships earlier this year.
Ayyoub got his start in wrestling after seeing his older brother compete and routinely come up just short of 1st place finishings.
“I always knew my brother is a very good competitor. I was like, ‘What the hell is this sport that my brother’s not winning in?’” he said. “It just hurt me seeing my brother losing so I wanted to try out the sport.”
Ayyoub said he wants to help those who are less experienced than him be successful too. He’s also a coach for younger kids and refs their matches, and posts motivational fitness videos on his Instagram account.
“I always believe in giving back to the community. The community helps me go compete in Canada and internationally,” he said. “I have great family members, great coaches, great team support from everyone who kind of helps me be the best me possible.”
Wrestling has not only given Ayyoub trophies and titles. To illustrate the impact the sport has had on other parts of his life, he quoted a line from former wrestler Dan Gable: “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.”
“I do not disagree one little bit. If you have the right mindset, you’re able to use your wrestling skills, what you learn, what you adapt from wrestling. That to me is success, transitioning one skill to the other,” Ayyoub said.
One such skill is perseverance. “With a team sport, you can kind of blame things on other people if you lose. But if you lose an individual sport, everything you blame on yourself,” he said. “So it just kind of gave me that willingness to improve.”
Being surrounded by people who also want to see him improve has made him a more positive person, Ayyoub said. He felt that support especially when he got to represent Canada at the Cadet Pan-American Wrestling Championships in June 2019. After not qualifying the year prior because he wasn’t a Canadian citizen, making last year’s Pan-Am championships was huge for him.
The pandemic, while disappointing, isn’t slowing Ayyoub down too much. He’s been practising in his backyard with his brother, using mats Schrauwen let them bring home. Right now, both Ayyoub and his coach are looking to the future. Ayyoub isn’t sure what his post-secondary plans are yet, so he’ll be taking a gap year to focus on wrestling and working. Nevertheless, Schrauwen has high hopes for him going forward.
“The sky’s the limit for that kid. We did take him to this year’s Olympic Trials. I’d say this was more of an experience year for him, because he was young, I’d say, to be making that team. But we think 2024 is probably a reasonable goal for him,” Schrauwen said.
But what about even further into the future? Ayyoub’s got that planned out, too.
“I’m going to wrestle as long as I can. Once I’m done with wrestling I’m going to coach as long as I can. I’m going to referee as long as I can. I’m going to be involved in the sport as much as I can because it is just something I love to do.”